Washington Report 112007

Date Published: 
Original Author: 
Robert M. Fells
Original Publication: 
ICCFA Magazine

Mass fatalities group meets with feds to plan for the unthinkable 

by ICCFA General Counsel Robert M. Fells, Esq.
On September 18 and 19, representatives from the funeral industry's leading trade associations met near Washington, D.C., as part of an ongoing series of planning sessions to advise federal agencies on fatalities management in the event of a manmade or natural disaster.
The Mass Fatalities Management Services Sub-Council, part of the Healthcare Sector Coordinating Council, is co-chaired by NFDA's John Fitch and ICCFA's Bob Fells, and includes active representation from the Catholic Cemetery Conference, the Casket and Funeral Supply Association and Matthews Cremation, among others.
During the first day of the conference, the private sector entities in the healthcare sector met on their own without their government counterparts. There was general frustration that recommendations and suggestions made by the private sector to government agencies are being ignored or, at least, not being responded to.
In particular, there was a consensus by the nine Healthcare Sub-Councils, which include Medical Materials, Occupational Health, Pharmaceuticals/ Biotechnology and Medical Treatment, among other areas, that the issue of mass fatalities management is being ignored in the federal government planning documents.
The second day, the Sub-Council co-chairs met with the representatives of various federal agencies, including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, and Health and Human Services, which are part of the Government Coordinating Council. Given the complex structure of the federal government, the sub-council expressed its frustration that key decision-makers were not involved in the meetings nor were state agencies represented. In addition, the private sector representatives repeated their concerns that federal planning documents, such as the National Response Framework, barely mention mass fatalities management despite efforts by the Mass Fatalities Management Services Sub-Council to add relevant materials to these documents.
The joint private sector-government sector meeting also included a tabletop exercise based on a hypothetical hurricane scenario severely damaging the Houston, Texas, area. Discussions focused on the role of the federal government interacting with state and local resources who would most likely be first responders in an emergency event.
While the discussions were useful, they highlighted an operational division in the thinking between the government and the private sector. Government agencies appear more focused on process, the private sector on results.
The members of the Mass Fatalities Management Services Sub-Council agreed to initiate contacts with other private-sector councils such as transportation, energy and emergency services, and to seek coordination with state and local agencies that have developed specific plans already in place.
Meanwhile, discussions continue with federal government representatives to develop a national perspective on fatalities management. For more information, contact Bob Fells at 1.800.645.7700